Saturday, May 31, 2008

God's peace

There is nothing we need more of than God's peace, a peace which surpasses all our understanding. So that even when we don't understand, we can have God's peace.

I experience more and more of this peace as I go along in my life in Jesus, especially compared to the past, though I'm sure I have plenty of room to grow in this. It's a prevailing sense of God's rest and assurance. Of course a peace of mind and heart, in spite of the problems present.

But I also experience at times a lack of peace. Struggling to understand is one of the biggest hinderances I find to having peace. What we need to trust in is not our own understanding, but in the Lord and in his word.

The mind here is important. We need a steadfast mind which comes from trusting in God and results in perfect peace. It's a mind that acts in faith, and rests in faith. And it's helpful and important to think of this in terms of community. We don't live this out and experience this peace as solitary individuals, in our own private world. But as those together with others in Jesus, in relationships, seeking to live out the faith in Jesus in the world.

God's peace will prevail as we look to God in his grace to us in Jesus.

What would you like to add to this?

Friday, May 30, 2008

"unsurpassable" from John Frye

We now reach the final chapter of John Frye's new book: Out of Print: A Novel. Much has happened in this short story after the disappearance of God's word in every visible form anywhere. A new interest has taken hold all over the world, first among Christians as well as Jews, to recover the missing books by finding those who had committed Scripture to memory. And Christians along with people all over the world actually hearing the word of God spoken out loud in their own language. All kinds of people who previously had no knowledge of God's word because of this phenomenon are able to hear it for themselves and are drawn to Jesus who is really the subject of the Story in a real sense.

In this chapter God's word begins to reappear until it is finally all restored. You begin to see the passages coming back and the people of the story, mostly Christians and a Jewish rabbi, interacting with the meaning of it all. First the Jeremiah 31 passage on the promised new covenant appears. Then the Ezekiel 36 passage that speaks of the same thing. Next John 1:14 appears followed by John 5:39-40, and 2 Corinthians 3:2-3. As the Christian and Jewish leaders are trying to make sense of it all and are coming to some points of conviction on it, then 2 Corinthians 5:15-19 appears followed by John 17:22-23. Afterwards whole books of the Bible come back until at last it is all restored.

A major conclusion that stands out to me from the story and from the Christian leaders (from the Jewish leaders as well, shown by the Jewish rabbi and by the interest in Jesus some Jews were having) in the story is that the word is to become flesh. That is, it's to penetrate into our lives and change us from the inside out. This is done in Jesus, who is the Word made flesh. And all of us in him partake of this reality of the new covenant.

Another major thought from it is that the word heard gives the hearers the sense of wanting to respond to it. The Hebrew words for "listen" and "obey" are synonymous. In our culture of reading silently, the idea is that we're in charge. But when it's read out loud to us we are being acted on, and it's up to us to respond.

To get the impact on people and how this plays out you'll need to read the book for yourself. It is quite a wonderful story to the point that you almost have a hard time thinking it didn't happen! And I love the epilogue and how the story ends. Wonderful picture of God's grace (of course you'll have to have read the story before to get it) and you see the pastor's heart John has in his telling of it.

What about us? When we pick up the Bible day after day what difference does it make in our lives and why? Are we having a relationship with it or with the God of the Bible? Are we entering into the Story of God's word in Jesus for ourselves? Or is it prmarily a book just telling us what to do and not do? And what significance does the word becoming flesh in Jesus have for our own lives? What place does the word have in us and how?

These questions and many more can be asked from the reading of this book. What hits you in your reading of the book or of these posts about the book? What would you like to share here?

1. unthinkable
2. unexplainable
3. unstoppable

Thursday, May 29, 2008

the goal of the kingdom (men and women)

In understanding how we're to live now in Jesus we need to look to God's goal of the kingdom which is already here in Jesus and is destined to take over the world. As God's people in the world but not of the world we are on mission to see people come to Christ, and also to work at God's will being done now on earth as it is done in heaven. Yes, someday that will be perfected and made complete. But it begins even now, in Jesus.

This arguably goes across the board in regard to many institutions that are considered sacred. The slave/master institution used to be considered sacred. Masters were over the slaves, and actually slavery in Israel was ahead of its time, as it was for the benefit of those enslaved who needed help. With careful laws set in place in the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), slaves were to be elgible for complete release at a certain time, having received the help they needed. In Paul's time, while he taught Christian masters to treat their slaves well, and Christian slaves to serve their masters well, yet in 1 Corinthians 7 and particularly Philemon we find him arguably, and I think clearly on careful study of these passages, putting the nail in the coffin to end that institution altogether. Of course slavery has a different sound to it today, given our own relatively recent history as a nation, over slavery of the past. Though in reality, much of the slavery of the past had its share of vices and problems as well.

A key passage in my understanding of the goal of the kingdom being important in our thinking and actions today is Galatians 3:26-29 (note also Colossians 3:9-11):
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Paul is saying that these distinctions, in a sense, break down, in Jesus. So that in accordance with God's creation and his new creation in Jesus there are no longer people enslaved to other people. Women are no longer ruled over by men, a consequence I believe of the fall (Genesis 3, note verse 16). As we gather from Matthew Henry, woman was created from man's side, and from close to his heart to be a partner with him, side by side, not over or under him.

Paul had to deal with the institutions of his day and the partriarchical society in which they lived. So as in other places in Scripture, God's truth accomodates to where people are living, but revelation is progressive, bringing God's people along towards the goal of the kingdom of God in Jesus.

As for men and women relationships I consider myself to be something of a complementary egalitarian (though "egalitarian" as a word is reduced because of its misuse in society today, to me simply meaning there is an equality while at the same time acknowledging the differences between male and female). I take passages as in Ephesians 5 to speak to us today directly, while at the same time accomodating the truth of God to the conventions of that time in that heavily patriarchical society. (1 Corinthians 11 must be compared with 1 Timothy 2, and other passages, in looking at this issue. A most helpful book and clearly written is by William Webb: Slaves, Women & Homosexuals. He sees the first two entities as parallel, and the last- the homosexual, as not, but forbidden in practice across the board in all of Scripture, and therefore not in God's goal of the kingdom.

Today we live in what we might call a soft patriarchical society among many and more of an egalitarian society among others. But among Christians, I doubt that the practical outworking between the two positions is different at all. Except for the place my side gives to women to serve as pastors. Most married couples make decisions together on either side, sometimes choosing to defer to one or the other as well as compromise (as we all know).

Just some food for thought in thinking through these issues in which we Christians are divided.

Any thoughts you'd like to share on this?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Heron Road - suffering" by L.L. Barkat

In L.L. Barkat's new book, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places, we continue through her story which is interesting all by itself. Enough was enough for her and her sister. It was more than an ultimatum to their mother even as young teenager girls. They were leaving to escape their stepfather and expressed hope that she would come with them. You imagine the scene as L.L. is truly an artist with words. And an artist with special intent, telling you her story unblinkingly and helping you see that story as well as your own in light of God's story.

Suffering was a part of L.L.'s and her sister's life, as well as their mother's. They were victims of a man who was bent on a path of destruction. Hopefully people will reach out to the Balm of Gilead through the gentle waters of Shiloah, knowing their need as they present themselves as the bruised reed they are. But for those who refuse to come to God in this quiet conversion sort of way there awaits the mighty flood of Assyria. Anything but pleasant as heads not only went rolling but were displayed on the city walls. But God's way of getting people's attention if his goodness and their own brokenness is not enough.

For L.L. and her sister the door of their father's house was open, so they made the difficult choice to leave their mother, if need be, so that they could at last do what they had wanted to do for so long. But now had the courage to follow through come what may.

Suffering does that to us. It makes us look for change. Naturally we shrink from pain, whatever kind it might be. And we want to find the cure for it. This makes suffering a most important ingredient in our lives to help us come to our senses and find our way home as did the prodigal son.

This has been true in my life in a number of ways. I remember how at the age of 17 my Old Gold straights just didn't taste good anymore. The friends I had who were into my music and getting good stuff just didn't seem much like friends anymore. My own life seemed empty and I was in pain. I knew I was a sinner and that Jesus is the Savior. That is when by the Spirit's working I finally committed my life to God through Jesus. Enough was enough. I was coming home at last.

I still experience suffering along the way, some of my own making, some from living in a fallen world with other sinners. In all of it, God wants me to find his grace and he doesn't particularly care how hard the place may be if need be, though God would have us find it in the more gentle way, as L.L. points out. But what matters in the end is that we do find what we need and all we need in God through Jesus.

Much good teaching in this chapter from God's word as L.L. continues to share her story of how she found God's grace in hard and hidden places.

What would you like to share from your own life about this, or anything else you might like to say?

I quote from L.L.'s chapter, "quiet conversion" one example, and chose not to note that here. I probably do so without knowing it, as well. I probably have done the same on other posts.

1. Stepping Stones - conversion
2. Christmas Coal - shame
3. Tossed Treasures - messiness

Next week: chapter 5: "Sword in the Stone - resistance"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

wanting to, not having to

I'm rewriting this post because I thought what I wrote was unclear at best and a bit confusing at worst.

Wanting to do God's will is what God wants from us. Of course like Jesus we will have to pray at times, "Not my will, but your will be done." It is true that Jesus faced the ultimate test and trial that we won't have to (since he did that for us). But just the same we must live as Jesus did, and that includes accepting God's will over our own will in everything.

The occasion for this thought is from my practice of Bible reading. Too often lately I've been dragging myself through it. It is rather ambitious in how fast I go through Scripture (at least for me) and I have been trying to practice it when first getting up in the morning (not too bad, then) and before falling asleep at night (that can be more of a challenge). And it can take precedent over fulfilling it, as in visiting Deb at times (not in the morning since she works second shift and is not a morning person). Instead of trying to do it both times, I've decided I want to do it through the day as well, when I'm more alert and because I want to, not just because I have to. And not worry about days I may not do it as much. Other days I may do it more.

This leads me to make this application for me and for all of us in our lives in Jesus. The goal should be that I do the will of God because I want to. Now if I don't want to, I can pray that God will make me want to, of course. We do it anyhow, though all hell seems set against us and our own hearts may be frozen or unresponsive and hard to it.

Just a thought and I know it's an undeveloped thought here. But what might you say to help us think through wanting to, not just having to do God's will for us in Jesus?

Tomorrow: chapter 4: "Heron Road - suffering" from L.L. Barkat.

Monday, May 26, 2008

recent pics

Norway Spruce Deb transplanted from our last place, ten years ago. Was as high as her but as you'll see on bottom picture, towers over us now.

A pansy near our side door.

Climantis near our side door. Deb has planted these and other flowers around our house.

Deb, I and Cleo(patra). She is a Samoyed. Not exactly her weather, today, but truly is Deb's weather! Well, I guess you can't see that this tree towers over us, but it does!

memorial day

Memorial Day is our first Summer holiday here in the United States, and in it we remember the soldiers of the United States who have died in military action to defend the freedoms we enjoy here. Flowers adorn the cemetaries of such, and I'm sure from whatever country any reader may be from and a citizen of, you too would want to remember and honor your nation's men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

As a Christian whose identity is found as one belonging to Jesus and part of the one holy nation, the church, scattered all over the world, I too would like to remember those Christians who likewise have made the ultimate sacrifice. For Jesus and the gospel, and for the kingdom of God in Jesus many have sacrificed their very lives as martyrs for the faith and their fidelity to it. We need to remember such and pray for those who continue to suffer today.

In gratitude to God for his mercies to us in Jesus, we're to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to him, which is true worship. A living sacrifice. Meaning that each day our lives should be at God's disposal, given over to him gladly so that his will can be realized in and through them. For some of us in the world, this may mean severe persecution and death. To follow Jesus requires that we not shrink back from whatever that may involve. That we look to God and depend on the Spirit to help us in whatever we face.

What thoughts might you like to add to this?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

quote of the week

Ouketi hos does not mean "not only as" or "not merely as." Here it means "no longer as." The ouketi...alla ("no longer...but") contrast emphasizes that the former condition is to stop and that the latter condition exceeds and supersedes it. To suggest that receiving Onesimus "no longer as a slave" has no social implications and that Paul is merely saying what we hear in 1 Corinthians 7 (the Christian slave is actually the Lord's freedman) is to underestimate totally the force and content of Paul's rhetoric here. There was already a sentiment among the Stoics that all persons were created equal by God....Paul certainly believes that all persons in Christ are new creatures and of equal sacred worth. This clearly has implications for the way he treats Jews and Gentiles and men and women, and there is no reason to doubt it would have social implications for his views about relationships between Christian slaves and masters. Paul is perhaps here offering a statement of fact: when God sets people free, they are free indeed, no matter how people view them. Paul seeks, then, to persuade Philemon to view the matter from God's point of view. "The reality of the world as seen from within the world is replaced by the reality seen from within the church. For Paul there is only one reality."

(the quote at the end is from N. R. Petersen) (pages 79-80)

Ben Witherington III on Philemon 15, 16 from his book, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles

prayer for the week

Grant, O Lord, that the course of this world may be peaceably governed by your providence; and that your Church may joyfully serve you in confidence and serenity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, May 24, 2008

writing is an art

I think writing as in blogs or even books I would imagine, or anywhere is much more an art than a science. It's more than a cold blooded transmission of ideas, truth, facts. It's a communication of one's very self, I think. Something of one's heart, for after all, if our heart isn't in something, it's quite empty. In the case of conveying the truth of God it should be a communication of the heart of God. We do try to find just the right words to express the truth, but it must be expressed in love, in the right tone to be the truth as it is in Jesus.

Now let me get off onto a tiny (I hope) soapbox. Translating is an art more than a science, as well. The kick to get back to "literal" translation I think is a move away from the reality that all interpretation consists of interpretation. Yes, it's not an interpretation according to one's wish or whim. One is trying to get at the meaning of the writer's intent or communication. But it's evident that a literal rendering from one language to another can lose the meaning altogether. And the Biblical language is no less human than it is of God. At the same time this is not an endorsement of loose paraphrastic translations, which serve best as devotional guides rather than for serious study. If you have the time, listen to this helpful talk on choosing a Bible translation.

Writing has a feel to it. For us in Jesus all we do and say and write should have the feel of Jesus about it. Or aspiration by faith in the grace of God in Jesus.

Plenty more to say here, I suppose. But I'll stop here.

What thoughts would you like to add to this?

Tomorrow, along with "the prayer of the week" usually taken from the Book of Common Prayer I will begin "the quote of the week."

Friday, May 23, 2008

"unstoppable" from John Frye

What would it be like to have all the word of God seen on the face of the earth, gone (except for Esther and Genesis)? What impact might this have? In John Frye's wonderful story telling ability we read about what could happen if that was the case in his new book: Out of Print: A Novel.

Again these are very real people, down to earth, and John knows people well, a pastor for over thirty years. After the "unthinkable" had happened, followed by a period when people are at a loss to understand why ("unexplainable") we now see another miracle taking place, but in a different direction. From consternation and fear, we see God's word prevailing through people all over the world who had committed it to memory. In the effort most of the Bible was retrieved, including its original languages of Hebrew and Greek, as well as its translation into worldwide languages. The interest in hearing God's word recited by his people was a phenomenon in reading rooms all over the world. And people who would not have darkened the doors of a church were interested and listening. Even the Islamic scholars, who had suggested that the disappearance of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures was a judgment by Allah, were taken back by what had unfolded before them.

Towards the end of the chapter John describes through the conversation of tthe Christian friends in the story much of what John is getting at in telling this story. That in hearing God's word read out loud, people can begin to hear God's voice to them. And that the word of God and God's work through it is more important than our theological differences as Christians.

In the words of Harold Johnson, the evangelical professor in the story:
The Bible simply being recited has become a magnet for human attention. The way Jews are showing an interest in the New Testament and Christians are needing the Jews for the Old Testament is uncanny. Catholic and Protestant scholars are developing a deep respect for each other as they work together to have just the Bible itself accessible. The profound Christian-Jewish, Protestant-Catholic-Orthodox cooperation has caught the attention of the Muslim world. Something truly greater than our differences is causing us to communicate with each other. (p. 66)
Another important quote from Pastor Steve in the story:
The watching world is taking note of the love that Christians and Jews have for their Scriptures. The Bible is not being used anymore to harangue and judge and belittle and ostracisize others. It is simply being spoken and lived out by people who deeply treasure it. The Bible was meant to be a lived Book, not just a learened Book. Maybe it's as simple as "A love letter needs to be read in a loving way." (p. 71)
There are some parts of the story that need to be resolved. Like all the loving, painstaking work done by the husband and wife team, Hank and Karla. How God used the disappearance of his word in Luci's life and her leaving Wayne, her boyfriend because of that, since he has no interest in what she has found and wants the old Luci back. Some good story lines, and if you get a chance to meet John, you'll see the love and humanness which he has cast in this story and its fictional characters of very real people.

I really like what John is getting at in this story and I'm trying to "get it" better myself. And I haven't even uncovered all the themes in the chapter, like the difference between God and the Book of God. And yet how important that Book is as God's word to the world in Jesus.

This chapter alone has plenty of fodder for good discussion, and for a deeper appreciation of this wonderful gift we have from God, in Scripture. And one thing that comes out to me loud and clear is that nothing can stop God's word and his work of love in Jesus and we best get in line with it, and find our place in this Story of God. It is truly unstoppable!

What hits you about this chapter or what is said here or from the book itself? What would you like to say about this?

1. unthinkable
2. unexplainable

Next week: chapter 4: "unsurpassable".

Thursday, May 22, 2008

life is messy

Nancy in yesterday's post from L.L.'s book brought up a great point in a comment and I'd like to quote it here:
i also do not like the mess. mess that i have brought on myself or has been brought on by someone else has been able to drive me and can still drive me at times. there have been so many times that i have just wanted to have things neet and clean and tidy. wanting to be done with something or over something. wrapped up tidy with a bow so i could move on. well, i am starting to live with knowing that nothing will ever be perfect and lovely and tidy in life here on this earth. that it will always be one thing or another...or many things that make a mess. so no need to let it drive me crazy or anywhere else. it is really good to know that God is with me throuth it all and in it all. i know that i will always desire what it should have been here...and what i will be in heaven. and i know that God will give me help when i ask, maybe not in the way i expect it, but, maybe something like l.l. had...a smooth warm stone to sit upon in a fresh green forest when i need it the most. enough to get me through what i have to go through and get me to the next place.
It is so true that life is never tidy for long in this present world. Once you think you might have at least some kind of handle on something, something else is thrown at you. Seems the nature of things.

Just this realization has helped me to relax more with things as they are, and cope better with the problems and issues that will come. There's no getting around them, for sure.

So I think half the battle is to accept whatever comes, and the other half is to live through whatever comes with faith in the Lord. To go and grow through it in him and in fellowship with his people as we seek to live as children of light for others in this world.

What would you like to add to this?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Tossed Treasure - messiness" by L.L. Barkat

This part of L.L.'s story was devastating to have lived through as a girl and certainly not easy to tell in this the third chapter of her new book, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places.

Tossed treasure thrown out of her window as well as a locked door were a part of the messiness she experienced from her stepfather. Messiness was a part of her life and prayer didn't seem to fix it. What helped was her and her sister's breakaway to the forest, the resting stone and the creek bed. Even now as I read her blog, particularly about her secret place which she's writing about for an upcoming book, I'm reminded that this was a big part of her earlier life when she was attempting to escape the messiness imposed on her.

For some reason I too have felt like something was wrong, though never in the devastating ways L.L. experienced, yet in devastating ways for me. And I've wondered and really surmised that my own messiness and general lack of organization is due to the messiness brought on me which seemed to make a mess inside of me shown by my outward messiness.

Though I have come a long way on that score (and I think I'm good enough to be called "cured" or not far from it though my wife Deb would beg to differ, I'm sure!), I still have some catching up to do since at least I still battle with procrastination. I don't think all messies are victims of others who have their own messiness, messiness passed from one generation to another. Of course in Jesus we want to break that chain and cycle, not passing it on to our progeny. But that can only be realized by the grace found in Jesus.

L.L. reminds us of the Festival of Tabernacles in which an Israelite family would live in a specially built tent or shelter for the occasion, in celebration of God's goodness to them, even in the midst of their journeying in the wilderness, having been victimized by the messiness from Egypt.

This speaks of God's provision for us and is fulfilled in Jesus who came and pitched his tent among us (John 1:14), though not having a home of his own in this world. And how Priscilla and Aquila, who followed Jesus, lived out this faith in the midst of mess from when they along with other Jews were booted out of Rome. Surely they did so because they had found that their true home was found in Jesus wherever they were. So that Priscilla could be a remarkable woman of grace and truth, in Jesus.

I also like the way L.L. brings in the Dr. Seuss character, The Cat in the Hat and "his handy mess-eating machine." L.L. is a lot of fun (Deb and I got to meet her recently for an all too short hour during a busy time for her here), and this chapter is so wonderfully crafted, in an artful, sensitive, tasteful, and edifying manner.

It really makes me think about my own life. How have I dealt with the messiness imposed on me when the "treasures" of my life have been tossed by those who themselves were victims of messiness, as L.L.'s stepfather had been? Of course we all have blame when we pass it on to others, no excuse there. But how do we stop doing that, and so break the chain from continuing on to our own progeny? It must begin with us in Jesus and in our own secret place in him. So that God can work in the messiness imposed on us for good, bringing in his kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy through us to our world.

You must read the chapter for yourself, because though I try to mirror L.L.'s intent here, sharing some of my own experience related to this, the chapter does it so much better as you might expect!

What thoughts do any of you out there have on this?

1. Stepping Stones - conversion
2. Christmas Coal - shame

Next week: chapter 4: "Heron Road - suffering".

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

avoiding the strife of tongues

James 3 makes it clear to us that our tongues are dangerous (as do the Proverbs), a world of restless evil. We live in a society that seem to promote this restless evil in what I might call the strife of the tongue. Talk radio subtly and not subtly attacks the character of other people, namely politicians. Even Christians feed on that and then do the same, and not just against politicians but against others as well. It is said almost in the name of the Lord. That's the intent most of the time. But it doesn't justify it.

I avoid it by refusing to participate in it. It becomes difficult when the one doing it seems given over to that kind of talk to some degree. I may not be in a good position or place to confront them on that, but I can certainly pray. And live out something different before them.

Where I can lose out on this is both in my thought life and at home when I'm sharing it with my wife, Deb. I can descend to the same level and fight fire with fire, rather than live as the light in the Lord which in Jesus we are. This is when I need to press the mute button on my mouth. And when or if I do speak, keep it to a minimum. And make sure I'm praying first with whatever thoughts which may follow. Praying always through that.

It's hardest when the tongues are aimed at us- though we know when at us it is aimed at others as well. We must avoid descending to the same level either in our words or in our heart. And we must avoid harboring evil in our hearts against the perceived and real evil of others. That evil we have stored will come out, even if it comes out more in what we don't do, rather than do.

I think the best thing we do to overcome the strife or evil of tongues is to overcome that evil with good. This may include gently correcting someone as we seek to live by the Spirit.

What do you do to overcome the strife of tongues? Or what might you like to add here?

tomorrow: chapter 3"Tossed Treasure - messiness", from L.L. Barkat's book, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places.

Monday, May 19, 2008

one nation under God

I understand what the motto added to the American "Pledge of Allegiance", "one nation under God" means. It was added during the heighth of the cold war in response to the atheism of the enemy Soviet state. It is an expression of "we are what they are not."

The only problem is that there is no longer any theocratic nation on the face of the earth. Not even present day Israel claims such, as was true of Israel of old. Yet there is a theocracy in the world, and it's certainly not any recognized global nation. I take it that the one theocracy is the church which has as its Lord and head, Jesus, this church scattered throughout the world. In 1 Peter called "a holy nation," and I take that to refer not just to scattered Jewish Christians in exile, living as strangers in the world. I take that to mean all Christians as I think that letter is addressed to Gentile as well as Jewish converts to Jesus.

Therefore it is a mistake to put too much of an emphasis on one's own nation, especially under the notion of thinking it's a Christian nation. The one Christian nation consists of all Jews and Gentiles who put their faith in Jesus as Lord and Messiah. This nation resides all over the earth, in many nations. Not to deny citizenship in those countries, Paul certainly used his Roman citizenship. But just to know where our true identity in Jesus really lies. Not in America or any other country of this earth. Instead we seek a better country, a heavenly one that is to come. A country that exists in Jesus now, on the face of the earth. And is someday to rule the earth under Jesus, but is beginning that presence of Jesus' reign in the kingdom of God present in the world even now. A reign so different than the world. A reign based on Jesus and his work for us, foolish and weak in the eyes of the world, but strong in God to the pulling down of all that stands between it and God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Now I may be accused of not being patriotic or whatever. I respect all flag waving Americans and all Christians who proudly serve their country in the military. And there are many great freedoms we enjoy here as Americans that have been bought and kept through American blood, even though some of our military ventures have surely been mistaken from the basis of the Christian just war position of which I'm in doubt. Our allegiance is not to Caesar or any national entity in this world as Lord, but only Jesus as Lord. But a lordship that allows me to live as an American citizen in this world, flag waving or not. And to live out the true identity which we are, in Jesus wherever it may be. Of the truly one nation under God that exists in the world, someday to be evident when God's kingdom in Jesus at last makes known its authority in God's timing over all the earth in judgment and grace.

What might you like to add or subtract from this posting?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

prayer for the week

Trinity Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, May 17, 2008

don't be easily moved

While it is good for us to remember that our thoughts are unfinished it's also important to not be easily moved from beliefs that we have, and in another sense we're not to be moved at all from the faith which we have in Jesus.

There are what we might call first level beliefs, such as our faith in Jesus as he is revealed to us in Scripture, our faith in God and in what he has done for us in Jesus, etc. These are beliefs we hold to in our commitment to Jesus. We believe them because they are an inherent part of the faith, and of our faith.

Our understanding of these beliefs can be changed, but shouldn't be easily changed. So we need to be those who are not easily moved, because after all there are other Jesus' being proclaimed other than the real Jesus. And there are other spirits who are speaking to people than the Holy Spirit of God. However we should be growing in our understanding of the meaning of what we hold to be true, expressed for some of us Christians in creedal form, and for others of us in basic statements or confessions of faith in regard to what we believe to be essential.

This should include other areas as well. What we believe in regard to politics for example (to pick up a hot potato) should be related to what we believe concerning the faith. While Christians will agree on certain essentials of the faith such as the centrality of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, etc., our understanding of what the revelation God has given to us in Scripture means for us in the here and now will differ sometimes in quite significant ways. So that while one Christian leans Democrat, the other leans Republican. Or as I know firsthand, while one Christian will go to war and do the duty of the state if need be, another Christian will not take up arms. Etc.

This is a bit of a balance perhaps to the post recently on unfinished thoughts. We need to be open to see the faith we believe in in new ways and applications to our lives and life in general for Christians here and now. But we need to not easily be moved from most of what we believe or have come to believe to that point. A good majority of that will never change, only our understanding of it in the light of everything else will grow. An exception for me is the importance I saw for the first time some years back in regard to the kingdom of God come in Jesus. This did revolutionize my thinking, yet my basic beliefs from Scripture remained unchanged. Though my understanding of the whole, the Story of God was changed in helping me see it better, I believe, with reference to all of Scripture. This is a big subject and I'm still working on it as I simply read the word, and interact with the thoughts of authors.

But my main point here is- knowing that we won't be moved at all in our faith in Jesus, we're not to be easily moved without good reason in our beliefs pertaining to that, always testing everything by God's word, and holding on in some shape and form to all we believe. Part of that is learning to let go, downplay or agree to disagree on beliefs that aren't that important such as how we fulfill water baptism, what we believe in regard to the truth of Jesus' Second Coming, etc. Interpretations Christians differ on about truths on which we generally agree.

Hope this post is not confusing. Do you have any questions or thoughts on this subject? What do you think about this?

Friday, May 16, 2008

"unexplainable" from John Frye

Hit with the unthinkable, the Bible's text disappearing everywhere, Christians are left with the question, "What on earth is going on?" This is from chapter 2, "Unexplainable" in John Frye's book, Out of Print: A Novel.

We see a pastor trying to grapple with this problem. His whole ministry was about helping people understand the word of God through his teaching. What would he do now that the entire Bible had disappeared (except for Esther and Genesis 34)? His little five year old son reassures his daddy that he'll be a good pastor, and lets him know that he still prays to Jesus. The pastor feels lost, but in the Sunday service the shaken congregation's faith seems to come alive, as he leads them in reciting Psalm 23. And they find various ones in their midst who have memorized other psalms.

Muslim scholars gather and decide that the best tentative explanation they can come up with is that Allah has done this to judge the Christians and Jews for wrongs done against Muslims through the centuries to this day. A televangelist to keep the money coming in lets people know that Jesus told him that the devil stole the word, relating that to Jesus' parable of the sower where the devil steals the word before it can take root in people's hearts. The seminary professor in conference with other Christian and Biblical scholars simply doesn't know, but casts doubt on the idea that the devil could do something that God promised would never be done.

I wonder about us here in the United States. We have access to so many different translations, renderings and editions of the Bible. What do we do with this great gift we have? What if all the sudden it disappeared, no more words to read of it anywhere? What would we make of that? And indeed something of the same has happened in countries in which the Bible was prohibited. The accounts show many whose faith became strengthened and to whom God's word became more precious than ever. But why? And how? And what is involved in that?

You are left hanging after this chapter, wondering what might come next. Though some light is beginning to break through as people begin to see the importance of God's word, Scripture, being hidden in their heart, in their memory- establishing their relationship with God and life in the world. And how in that Jesus is central, as a small group led by the pastor sings He is Lord .

John knows people well, a pastor for nearly 30 years in one church and pastoring again. These fictional people come to life and are as real as you and me, as well as the problem they face. I'm left intrigued and wondering just what this means for us who often lazily read our Bibles and find the words at times tedious and all too familiar.

What about us? What does the Bible mean to us? What place does it have in our hearts and lives? How might we be misusing the Bible, or missing the point in our use of it? Or for some of us, why do we neglect the Bible at times? Could there be a good time for setting it aside temporarily? Why or why not?

These and other questions we can ask as we ponder this chapter. It's a time of hurt and pain in the story. But often those times are times of needed change.

What thoughts might you have on this, or possible explanations to the "unexplainable"?

1. unthinkable

Next week: chapter 3, "Unstoppable"

Thursday, May 15, 2008

unfinished thoughts

I think of much of my posting as consisting of unfinished thoughts. This describes a difference I might have with some good Christians. Sometimes I'm misunderstood as a person who doesn't see black and white. That everything is gray. This is not the case, really. There are plenty of blacks and whites as to what is right and wrong. I also see gray sometimes, only in the complexity of life, of how all this is worked out. But our hearts and the actions that accompany them, while there can be mixed motives involved, do involve black and white, right and wrong issues, always.

Unfinished thoughts consists of grappling with how we're to live out our calling in Jesus. What's all involved in that. Personally, in relation to God, to others and to our calling in this world. How we're to see the big picture. How we're to look at our story in light of the Story of God.

Unfinished thoughts involves a willingness to float out a thought to get other thoughts on it. To maybe change ideas where needed, or refine them.

Sometimes I acknowledge my thinking can be half-baked or worse. This is certainly the case in this life as we only know in part (1 Corinthians 13), so that we need each other in the quest to live godly in Jesus. We do have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2) by the Spirit and the word. Another reason why working through our thoughts is important. Working at taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10).

What might you like to share on this to help us in the unfinished thoughts here?

tomorrow: chapter 2, "Unexplainable" from John Frye's book, Out of Print: A Novel.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Christmas Coal - shame" from L.L. Barkat

In chapter 2 ("Christmas Coal - shame") of L.L. Barkat's new book, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places, we read of shame heaped on a nine year old girl by her stepfather in front of his sons and her mother. Then we see how God helped L.L. to cope with that and overcome it.

As is the whole book it is written with no ordinary prose. One gets taken in, but not too much into any sordid detail. Two chapters following continue this part of L.L.'s life during those years. We get a glimpse into L.L.'s story which can help each one of us with our own shame. How in Jesus we can address this and move on in spite of a shameful past. And how she unfolds the Scriptural analogy of the worm is one to remember. It helps me in addressing shame that is thrown at me sometimes even now.

I tried to avoid giving a summary of this chapter which gives too much away because I'd like to encourage you to read it for yourself.

Shame has been a big part of my own life. One memory that stands out is how there was a group at my very first church who used to make fun of Dad. Dad being the oldest son had worked with his own father on the farm and while intelligent, did not have the social skills one gets from living in society. By extension our whole family was shamed. I remember vaguely now getting thrown in the bushes probably by a couple older boys. I was hurt and angry, but also ashamed myself, and still feel a little angst in telling this.

Shame in my life extends beyond that as well, experienced through the meanness of others, but also through my own ill reactions and actions. As well as my not fulfilling the dream of my life in being ordained and serving as a pastor. Though at this late date in my life I could easily think of myself as a teacher or even an editor, though not so sure on that last one!

L.L.'s chapter helps me, both by her own sharing of her life as well as the powerful analogy fulfilled in and by Jesus for us. Our shame is covered by Jesus through his death for us, Psalm 22 a key passage from which L.L. draws. Two key quotes to leave us with from this chapter: "I'm glad God delights to make things right, to cover our shame so we can stop trying to cover it ourselves." (p 20) "And the shame of my past, though real, cannot keep me earthbound." (p 22)

How has shame been a factor in your own life and what help in Jesus have you found for that? Or any other thought you'd like to add to this either from your reading of the book or of this post.

1. Stepping Stones - conversion

Next week: chapter 3: "Tossed Treasure: messiness"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

a heart for the world

"The Lord's prayer" is a good prayer for us to be praying regularly or help us pray, as Jesus taught us. It is comprehensive for us as God's children, and it concerns the entire world.

When we look at the recent typhoon in Myanmar and earthquake in China, along with other tribulations this world encounters, we can't help but long for God in Jesus to finally come and make all things right and new. For Christians, this is our hope, fulfilled in the resurrection of all things in Jesus.

I have to admit that it's so easy for me to fail to see beyond my own struggles and problems, and the problems of those around me. It's hard to see beyond that, but we're to have a heart for everyone, yes everyone in this world, even for enemies. And we're to be in prayer and do what we can as we're led to do.

If our faith does not lead us to have a heart and longing for the redemption of this world, of the earth and all creation, then it is not the full-orbed Christian faith. And too often Christian faith has been little concerned over this, though rightfully believing that God in Jesus is Lord over all, and we can rest assured in that, even as we don't have all the answers. But that should lead us to a faith that acts, in listening, prayer and doing.

For me this means some disciplined listening both to NPR and the BBC. I want to understand what's going on in the world, in places on the news and out of the way places which tend to be neglected.

Also it is good to find organizations which are doing good around the world to help great needs in the name of Jesus such as World Vision and Compassion International. As well as to find what one's own denomination is doing.

In all of this we continue to pray for God's kingdom to come even into this present world and instead of lamenting over what we cannot do, we seek to do and give something towards the great need that is out there as it is on our heart to do so.

I know it is natural to just be overwhelmed by it all. But I believe this is one aspect of our calling in Jesus. That we are to have a heart for the world. For the gospel to go forth and for God's kingdom to come into the hard places in anticipation of the day when God makes all things right and new in Jesus, this work beginning even now in this world in Jesus.

What thought would you like to add to here that can help us? Or what do you think about this?

tomorrow: chapter 2, "Christmas Coal - shame" from L.L. Barkat's book, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places.

Monday, May 12, 2008

don't despise the simple things

We may want to do something great, not necessarily to call attention to ourselves- which would be a sin, but because we want to please the Lord and do well in his eyes. What was pressed home to me Saturday was the need to do well in the simple, humble things. In which the main thing one is doing is simply seeking to be faithful.

I met with a brother. We went over a study guide on forgiveness, beginning a lesson on Psalm 32. All we said I think was Scripturally sound, and it seemed to me inanely simple. So I have to admit I had a kind of contempt for it, probably thinking to myself I'd be glad when it's over. Yet I did enjoy fellowship with the guy I met with, and he seemed to genuinely appreciate our exchange as I sought to be a good listener and encourager, as well as our time of prayer afterwards. And I sensed that the Lord was pleased with that time.

This goes to show that I must beware of thinking I need to do something that is great in the sense of using my gift as well as I can. Yes, I want to do that, but what came home to me from this is that I simply need to be faithful. That this should be my goal. And not to despise the time of what seems to be simple things.

We do like to get beyond the milk to the meat of the word of God. We want to be challenged to grow to be like Jesus, which means to be missional since Jesus himself was missional (as our pastor Jack Brown pointed out to us yesterday). We want to move on. Yet even in the simplicity of those nearly two hours at a nearby bagel, coffee place, I could see that what we did really did move us to that end, as this man expressed the vision he has for a ministry that can impact others.

I want to have that sense of the Lord's approval in my life. Not just to hear it someday, which by grace we hope to. But also to sense it now, that God is pleased with us and what we do. And in that, let's be careful not to despise the humble things and seemingly little tasks. For in such we find ourselves in the way of Jesus.

What might you like to add to this?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to my Mother, and to each and every mother who reads this! Blessings on you. You're all so very special!

My mother is so very special to me and to each of her children. She has done a remarkable amount of good for each of us, and her life has been used of God by her many prayers and witness to us. We love you, Mom, and we miss you. I hope you have the best Mother's Day ever, and that you know just how much you are loved.

prayer for the week


Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

from Jesus Creed

Saturday, May 10, 2008

prayer request

Please pray for these desperately hurting folks who are friends of Kinney Mabry, AKA, Preacherman. They need our love and prayers.

Pentecost Sunday

Tomorrow, or today already for many parts of the world is Pentecost Sunday. This is the day on which we remember the coming and outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the believers after Jesus' resurrection and ascension. Jesus from the Father baptizes the believers with and in the Holy Spirit. It is the birthday I take it of the Church, the Body of Christ in the world. It is the coming of the Spirit to empower God's people to be Jesus' witnesses all over the world. And to be Jesus' hands and feet, everything, Jesus' Body, present for each other, but to the goal of living as children of the light in the Lord which we are.

Of course it's personal: the Spirit is changing us who believe more and more into the resemblance of Jesus. And it's corporate: we're in this together as people of God in Jesus. We build each other up by the gifts the Spirit gives us. And it's missional: not for ourselves and our enjoyment, but to be Jesus by the Spirit, to the world, both individually and corporately as each of us prayerfully does our part in deed and word.

Pentecost Sunday. Oh how we need more of the Spirit in our lives. But let's remember also that we have the Spirit. Let's walk in the Spirit, learning to do so more and more. And be filled with the Spirit, speaking the truth as it is in Jesus, in love. This is why we're here; this is why the Spirit has come.

Be blessed in your worship tomorrow, as many of us and our churches celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.

What does this day mean to you? What would you like to share with us on this?

Friday, May 09, 2008

"unthinkable" from John Frye

Imagine a day when Scripture begins to disappear starting in John's gospel. Slowly but surely every trace of it everywhere is gone so that all else remains except the words of Scripture.

In John Frye's "novella" or novel entitled Out of Print, this is precisely what happens. God's written word is no where to be found, disappearing from monuments, Bibles, books in which it is quoted, whether in original languages or translated. A world-wide phenomena that has everyone up in arms, especially Christians and religious people. So is the setting in chapter one of this most interesting story.

You begin to meet real people here. Like a brilliant evangelical seminary professor. A woman living with her boyfriend who could care less while she is distressed over it, wondering if God has disappeared off the face of the earth or is no longer present since the Bible is gone. A team of married Bible translators who lovingly and painstakingly have worked on understanding and translating God's word beginning with John's gospel into a native tongue of those who have never had a Bible. But now all is lost! A devoted lady teaching children with Child Evangelism Fellowship materials, having done so for years, but now that possibility seems oh so sadly gone! And others.

The Roman Catholic Church seems headed towards the idea that somehow Satan and demons may have stolen it. Evangelical Protestant scholars don't buy into that. But just what in the world is going on is really beyond everyone. And why.

I really like John's novel and how he opens it. The more we can imagine ourselves there, perhaps as one of the characters, and John provides a nice variety of them to choose from, the better. This is a story worth having in your home, reading and rereading over time, and really thinking about it.

What about it? We're used to having the Book, but what if it began gradually and over time to completely disappear? How would that impact our faith? How would the world see it? How would we Christians see it? And what difference would it make in our lives now and beyond? And to the world?

This is a set of questions which John Frye in his more than able story telling ability will seek to answer in the pages that lie ahead.

Next week we look at chapter two, "Unexplainable" as Christians seek to understand just what has happened, and what it means for their witness in the world. Stay tuned, and better yet, get a copy and read. Only a little over 100 pages and a page turner. And most importantly- besides telling a story as John can do it- it really gets you to thinking about God's word and its place in our lives now. Unsettling, but maybe this is something of what God wants to do in our lives. Are we misusing the Book or missing the point of it? What place is it to have in our lives? Would many professing Christians even miss it if its words were gone?

What thoughts or questions might you like to add here?

Next week: chapter two: "Unexplainable"

Thursday, May 08, 2008

conversion as ongoing

Yesterday we looked at conversion a little, from L.L. Barkat's wonderful book, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places.

I believe in conversion to God through Jesus. And that there surely is a point when we have crossed over from death to life, whether we know when it happened or not. In the evangelicalism I grew up in, even though Mennonite, knowing the day and giving your testimony about it were considered important. One needed to know that.

That can be good, but what is better is when we know we have faith now, and are seeking to follow in the faith which is in Jesus now. And this involves a process beyond just the point when we were saved. In Scripture we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved. So we're undergoing a process now. It's a walk by faith, and sometimes it can be quite uncomfortable.

This reminds me of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. The journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City had plenty of hazards along the way and was anything but comfortable at times. We have to look at our difficulties and things we go through which we hate as just part of this ongoing process of being increasingly conformed into the image of Jesus. And while we're directly responsible for ourselves individually in this, we're also responsible for one another, to help others to faith, and help each other in Jesus by our prayers and life and words, to walk in and become increasingly conformed to the Way who is Jesus.

For me this involves so many things. Wrong heart attitudes, yes sinful at times. But more than that. Learning to follow Jesus with others, in everything. And cherishing what is good, revelling in that in faith and practice. So that any good thought or sense of grace that comes to my awareness is welcomed. Also being happy of gradual growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Conversion as ongoing is an acknowledgement that we haven't arrived. Yes, we're on our way, hopefully well on our way. And conversion in process should involve being in company with others who are in this same journey of faith.

We're being changed in Jesus, from glory to glory, as Scripture tells us. How wonderful. By grace may we leave behind more and more the old, and take on more and more the new, in Jesus. Losing ourselves in him, and then finding our true selves together, in Jesus. Along with passion it involves pain, and is a process. So hang in there!

What thoughts might you like to add or share on this?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"Stepping Stones - conversion" - from L.L. Barkat

In chapter one ("Stepping Stones - conversion") of L.L. Barkat's new book, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places, L.L. wonderfully shares in a humorous and moving way, the outset of the beginning of her faith journey.

Her step-mother, Beezie who was a lapsed Catholic and her atheistic father are hit by "a charismatic Christian with a capital C" by the name of Opal Bonesteel, a prayer warrior. Parts of this chapter are quite funny and described in such a way that you can't help but picture it in your mind and imagine the scene. In fact both in prose and poetry, L.L. has a gifted touch to take you there, or at least give you a sense of what she is talking about in her experience. And in a way you can relate to, or identify with.

We see conversion happen through Opal's witness, first with Beezie, and then with L.L.'s father, after his open verbal assault on the Bible, with continued tirades as he sought to disprove it in his reading. Just the opposite took place as he too began his journey of faith.

And soon Beezie led L.L. and her sister to pray the sinner's prayer. Thus began L.L.'s conversion which in its process was to go through most troubled waters which begin in the next chapter. Waters she would rather forget.

This is the beginning of a wonderful telling of her story and of what relates to that story and really what relates to all our stories in this world and in the Story of God.

I too can look back and see important points along the way which were a part of the process by which I was brought by God to conversion. Like the time that galvanized my felt need for a Savior in my mind, when around the age of ten at church I went down to the men's restroom, I can still smell that room, and prayed loudly to God over my conviction of sin and of being a sinner so that I was heard all the way upstairs as I recall. I had plenty of pain, inward pain in my teenage years. And plenty of rebellion to match it.

But through my dear mother and her faithful witness, the continued ministry of Billy Graham, and my wonderful children's Sunday school teacher, Blanche B., along with other faithful people of God at our church, I came to faith late, when I was 17. Even then, after crossing over from death to life and thus converted to Christ, I still was in a process of undergoing conversion, which I must truthfully confess goes on right to this very day!

I love the way L.L. tells her story. It's a wonderful read. It keeps you going. But like the best things in life, you're best to take it slow.

What about any of you readers of her book, or anyone else out there? What do you think about conversion? And what might you share from your own story?

Next week: chapter 2: "Christmas Coal - shame"

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Ascension Day

Ascension Day has come and gone, and is barely noticed if at all by us evangelicals. We certainly remember Christmas, Good Friday (where's a special day to remember all Jesus did between Christmas and Good Friday?- that can wait for another post!), Easter, Pentecost. But what about remembering Jesus' ascension?

When Jesus ascended "to the highest heavens" he was then enthroned on the throne of God, at the right hand of God as well. And he rules now, until all his enemies will be put under his feet. When Jesus took the throne of God he became Lord over all. Yes, he was Lord before, and always has been. Yet this was a special enthroning in which all authority in heaven and on earth was given to him. And after his ascension he baptized his people with the Spirit, the gift the Father had promised.

This means alot for us. Yes, in our circumstances. And beyond that for the entire world. We can rest assured that since Jesus is Lord over all, our following of him will make a difference, no matter what obstacles we face. No matter how hard the going is. And that all we do in the Lord is not in vain in the here and now. Why? Because Jesus is not only resurrected, but he is the resurrected, enthroned Lord. This is what Ascension Day is all about. And it's high time we learn more about this and celebrate it and most importantly, live accordingly.

We are resurrection people already, people of the new creation and the kingdom of God already present, in Jesus. We live as those still carrying our cross in following Jesus. But as those who by faith in the risen, ascended Lord, can overcome the world. This is an overcoming that while of the Spirit has to do with our testimony as well as what we do. It is a following that is not afraid of death itself, because Jesus is Lord over all, including death. And a following that will settle for nothing less than God's kingdom to come, and his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

This potentially can help me, as I let this truth sink in. Many passages I could have linked here, and due to lack of time I didn't do so. I do give N.T. Wright credit in helping me think on this recently.

What thoughts would you like to share on this?

Monday, May 05, 2008

don't be overwhelmed

When I look at problems we face of different kinds, or challenges ahead for me, I can tend to become a bit overwhelmed and want to run and hide from it.

I have felt somewhat overwhelmed lately. I knew Sunday would be a busy day, going to the nursing home not long after church in the morning, then soon after that heading back out for homegroup in the evening.

So I ended up sleeping much of Friday evening with Deb at work. And then felt guilty as I slept in fairly late Saturday morning. Then, instead of getting done some needed reading for this coming week I slept some more Saturday, too much more, and not all on purpose, either. While tired and knowing just how tired I can end up being the first part of a week, I think there was a strong sense of just wanting to avoid the challenge so that I was procrastinating, something I can do well.

Sunday ended up being a blessed day both in our singing and in the word: Psalm 104 at the nursing home, and Psalm 90 with the homegroup. The Lord certainly answered prayer. But I still have that sense of feeling overwhelmed and in over my head with what lies ahead. And also the desire for some real sabbath, so that we can kick back and relax. And enjoy this wonderful Spring, which though just a bit chilly was wonderful in its beauty yesterday, with blue skies all day.

What is there that is good about being overwhelmed, and what are the dangers of that? For me it's good in that I am cast on God in prayer. I know I can't do it, that all is a work of God, but that by prayer he takes us up into his work and does it through us. Not of ourselves, yet we can work in the working of God- even together with him. What is dangerous for me is simply the temptation to want to hide. To think it's too much. We each have our part; it may seem small, but it's significant to the whole. I could see that last night in our homegroup as people participated in our time there.

What helps you to not be overwhelmed with the ongoing responsibilities and challenges of life?

Halfmom, AKA, Susan speaks to this subject on her posting today, so much better than I!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

prayer for the week

The Sunday after Ascension Day

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

from Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, May 03, 2008

politics and our place in it

Being Anabaptist to some extent in my theological understanding makes the consideration of politics a bit more difficult for me (see Bob Robinson's thoughtful, good post related to this, along with my comment). Of course Anabaptists differ among themselves as to what Christians should do related to the state and politics. Some withdraw completely (the Amish and some Mennonites) and others actively engage in it (other Mennonites, Ron Sider among them).

Christians are salt and light in Jesus in this world, and this is to be evident to others. I don't see much in the New Testament which tells us that we're to Christianize government as in trying to see it changed. Yet our influence should be felt everywhere, including government, so that at least the new way of being human in community in Jesus will be evident to them.

Of course in this our lives should be full of good works. And we need to live out and speak the truth which often will contradict the values of society at large, in our case often bent on pursuing "the American dream" and protecting all "individual rights" such as "the right to choose."

Yes, Jesus is Lord; therefore Caesar and any other human government is not. But this was lived out and proclaimed in a way that seems above the world, and in that way to hopefully influence the world. A good case in point in my mind is Martin Luther King, Jr. He refused to live as the world does in protesting against the maltreatment of African-Americans. Instead he sought to follow the way of Jesus in nonviolent protest outside of the system. And that's the major reason we still remember him today.

Of course I think we also need the William Wilberforce's (also here)- to go along with the John Woolman's- working in government. I think a Christian can do that according to their calling, and should. Not an easy road. But think of Daniel and Esther. God will guide one, and we have to decide just how we'll do this in working with others and knowing what we should do. Not an easy calling, but then again what is easy in this life? To follow Jesus in his way will be challenging for us all in whatever way we serve here.

What do you think about this?

Friday, May 02, 2008

deader than a doornail

A reminder that next Friday, May 9 we will begin blogging through John Frye's new book, the novel, Out of Print. John is a great storyteller, and I think we'll find this story intriguing as to its ramifications for us now. So get a copy and read (not much more than 100 pages) and join us, or join us anyhow for some interesting and challenging discussion.

Have you ever felt "deader than a doornail"? Not sure exactly what that means, except it most certainly means dead, period. I mean feeling-wise when there seems to be nothing much at all inside. And it matters little what you do to try to change that; it doesn't change.

For us in Jesus we're of course still going to have a conscience (and all people have that, though it can be seared or defiled, and no longer of much use) and we'll still want to do and say the right thing and avoid what is wrong. But we can get to the place or experience the time when it is simply hard to carry on. Like everything is an uphill effort. That was most of my day yesterday. We did have a good laughing time over a good number of things at work, but I was left as empty and on top of that, heavy as ever, afterwards.

I wonder what's going on when this happens. I have my ideas. While Satan can be at work in his opposition to God and God's will in our life, God is at work to change our hearts, our affections, our priorities, etc.

During such times we can be vulnerable. If we're tempted in any given area we might give in (which means that it's a good thing there was no bag of dark chocolate Hershey's kisses around here, last night). I was tempted to throw in the towel in regard to something, but instead, as I made phone calls, was blessed with the exchanges.

The faith in Jesus does not always feel good. It's true that the kingdom of God in Jesus is a matter of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, and in that way we're to live our lives in pleasing God. But to get to that righteousness, and for that righteousness in Jesus to have its way in our lives, often means waylaying matters that are not right or need worked on in our hearts. We need heart change because from the heart we live.

I'm glad in my case that the most recent of this did not last a full day. I pray God will continue to work on me as I know he has more to do, and he knows that better than I. Of course we know God will continue to work on us, and his work of grace is what keeps us on track, and helps us find our way in the Way, hard as that often seems.

Anyone have anything to add to my meandering on this?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

praying our sin

In weekly team "devotions" at work, we're going through certain psalms and prayer with reference to them. Now we're on Psalm 137, entitled "Praying Our Hate." The psalm is beautiful lyrically, but ends in an awful note, asking God to do what others had done to them. While this may have justification in the old covenant, praying that God would avenge or punish victimizers as they had done to their victims, we find this changed in the new covenant in Jesus, so that we probably should at least be slow to pray down judgment, but should rather, pray down reconciliation, the reconciliation of God in Jesus, upon enemies. We do want God's intervention against all evil, but we also would like to see all evildoers repent and believe, and be reconciled to God and to others.

This leads me to the point I want to make in this post, beginning with a question: Is it good for us to pray our sin to God? Of course we know that if we cherish sin in our hearts, the Lord will not hear our prayers. Therefore we can't come to God in prayer while we hold on to sin in our lives. Yet at the same time God wants us to come to him just as we are. And yes, we are sinners in need of grace. So just how can we pray our sin to God and that be legitimate?

To attempt to clarify this, a bit, let's give an example. Let's say someone is getting to you in what they're doing against you. You're sometimes angry with them, or at least tired that you can't get anywhere with them to resolve the problem. How would you pray about this to God?

I have found that as I pray to God about that which I know to be sin in my heart and life, and I do so acknowledging my need for God's grace in forgiveness and cleansing, then God meets me, and I find his help. I've also found that I have to keep coming back to God with the same things at times. Though at other junctures I see that I've grown in being less tempted and taken in by a particular sin. Of course growth is so gradual that we often lose sight of where we were a year ago. We may have made some progress in an area which we little realize now. And this may lead us to ask God to show us other areas that need worked on so that we can pray those as well.

Of course praying our sin here is when sin has got hold of us. As we pray the Spirit is at work in us, interceding to God on our behalf, as well as changing an shaping our hearts according to God's will.

So I guess the lesson for us in this is simply this: When struggling in sin, don't run away from or avoid God, but instead, come to God in prayer. Pray exactly how we think and feel at the time. God will be present to help us.

Any thoughts on this?